by Eleanor Sciolistein
To really understand the 2007 travesty that is Hannibal Rising it is necessary to know a little about the history of the Hannibal Lecter films, novels and their rocky relationship with Dino De Laurentiis.
De Laurentiis originally had the rights to Harris’s first Hannibal novel Red Dragon and was on board for Micheal Mann’s pre Hopkins adaptation ‘Manhunter’.
However, he opted out of the franchise before The Silence of The Lambs only to jump back on board for all of the subsequent films (which is the movie world equivalent of being a 60’s music manager in Liverpool and taking on every band but The Beatles).
After Hannibal and Red Dragon performed well at the box office old ‘ditching’ Dino’s appetite for Lecter wasn’t sated and neither, he imagined, was the movie-going public.
In a scenario scarily reminiscent of Stephen Kings ‘Misery’, De Laurentis was not prepared to simply accept the idea that the sun had set on this character and that the Hannibal Lecter well was dry.
He, therefore ‘instructed’ Harris to come up with a new novel, a prequel which would provide a backstory for Hannibal and might go some way to explaining his psychopathy, particular dietary requirements and the overall evolution of the character.
If Harris chose not to participate, De Laurentiis would simply find someone else to come with the story and run with that. Writing the novel under duress in what really amounts to emotional manipulation worthy of Hannibal himself (give me more of this character or I’ll let someone else have their way with him) Harris produced a novel which, if we are honest, though passable, was far below the quality of the others in the series.
That Harriss himself worked on the screenplay did nothing to elevate the raw material and the end product is a disappointing dirge that paradoxically explains the origins of a legacy, whilst struggling to emerge from the shadow of its predecessors.
The movie itself tells the story of Hannibal’s traumatic youth. Set during and in the immediate aftermath of the second world war, the film documents Hannibal’s family being ousted from their aristocratic family home and the death of his parents.
Finding refuge in a nearby hunting lodge, Hannibal and his younger sister Mischa, towards whom he takes on an almost paternally protective role, survive until a group of militiamen discover their hideout. Forced to the point of starvation by the harsh winter, the soldiers eventually realise how similar the first syllable of Mischa is to the first syllable of ‘meat’ and after a good munch instill within the young Hannibal, deeply scarred by the loss, a cannibalistic tendency.
Directed by Peter Webber the film stars French actor and model Gaspard Ulliel as the adolescent Hannibal, in a performance, which, though by no means terrible, seems deeply incongruous with what the audience knows of the later Lecter and which lacks the subtlety and investment displayed by either Cox or Hopkins.Though to be fair to the young actor, the script and plot did not allow him much room for subtlety...
Unfortunately, by this point the Lecter character had switched from interesting villain to full antihero mode and the young Hannibal is guilty only of crimes against those who are almost exclusively repulsive or ‘deserving’ victims, a fact which then denotes the film from a thriller into a plodding, revenge narrative. Devoid of suspense it simply waddles lazily from one set piece of righteous vengeance to another and robs the Lecter character of the fundamental dichotomy between brilliance and brutality that made him interesting in the first place.
Though it ties up some loose ends which arguably could and should have been left untied and provides a backstory, this installment veers between being an unintentional parody and simply below par.A film which should be reserved for completists or those looking for an unchallenging (and possibly unrewarding) few hours in the company of a familiar character.
Of the five Hannibal films, Hannibal Rising is unquestionably the runt of the litter, metaphorically consumed by the comparative greatness of its siblings.
Speaking of cannibalism, considering his approach to improving the sound of the orchestra by eating a substandard flautist, it’s probably for the best that Lecter isn’t real, otherwise, everyone involved in this film might deservedly have ended up on the menu.